Chapter One: Hatred of Truth
John 117 nearly shook with his fury. Never before had he felt this way. Never. Not when they glassed Reach, killing the Spartan-IIs, not when he had been taunted by fellow UNSC officers for being a "freak," not when he had been recruited at age six, not ever.
But to face this . . . Arbiter . . .
He never felt this complete anger.
And the Arbiter didn't know that he was being watched. Johnson, however, watched the watcher, walking up to stand beside the huge armor-wearing Master Chief, silent for a change. The two men had come to share an uncanny and unlikely friendship that was born from their dual survival from Halo.
Looking down at the sergeant so silently and coldly, the Master Chief turned and left, his rubber-soled boots clunking softly against the metal floors. Arbiter turned from his view of the stars at the noise, seeing the retreating, stalking back of the Spartan. He looked at Johnson, stating, "He is formidable. Could have killed me."
"But didn't, kid. The Master Chief has ethics, honor, codes. Some of them that even I will never understand."
"So why didn't he? I . . . at least, at one point, I would not have hesitated to kill one of your kind. And I have seen footage of the Demon killing many of my own species. Sometimes they had seen him coming. Most times not."
"Well, what can I say? I don't know him any better than I know you. All I know is that there is a lot of things that the two of you have in common. And that the UNSC needs both of you. Try not to worry. He won't kill you." Johnson winked, walking away. "At least, unless you try to kill him first. Don't make yourself a bigger target than you already are."
Arbiter blinked. What was that facial expression supposed to mean? The closing of one eye quickly, accompanied by a partial upturning of the sides of the mouth and lips? Odd, indeed. Sighing, he turned and walked to the rooms that he had been graciously given, stepping inside the darkened room and closing the door behind him. In a sudden fit of rage at not understanding, he ripped his helmet from his head and hurled it to his right.
It didn't land.
Spinning, subtly landing in an unarmed defense method, he saw the iridescent olive armor of the Demon. The Arbiter didn't move, the Chief didn't move. After a long silence, though, the all-but-outlawed Elite broke his gaze off angrily, moving deeper into his rooms. "What do you want."
"You were at Reach."
"You know how many you killed?"
"Not all the planet was destroyed, Demon. Fifty percent still lives. There wasn't enough time between Reach's fall and the discovery of the Halo to complete the job." A single, glaring eye shone over his shoulder as he turned his head. "And you are one to speak about the numbers of brethren you have killed." He smoothly removed the armor from his arms, letting his skin breathe.
"In defense. There's a difference."
"Is there. Enlighten me."
John fought the urge to kill the Arbiter with his own ugly helmet. He turned it over within his hands, unable to really feel the metal and the filigree through his gauntlet-bound hands. Taking silent, deep breaths, John regained whatever small amount of patience he had left, growling out, "Your kind attacked mine first. Want to tell me why?"
Arbiter still stood with his back to the Demon . . . his personal Demon, the one who caused him to become what he was. He knew that the humans had done nothing to deserve the Covenant's attention. He knew that they all did what the Prophets told them to do, no questions asked.
"They told us in their silver, poison-laced tongue that it was none of our business to wonder why we were being sent against you." He looked over his shoulder again, encountering no eyes, no face beyond the golden, reflective faceplate. "So we never asked." He snarled his words angrily. "Did you ask to be what you became? A Demon?"
John had had enough. He ripped his own helmet from his head, glaring completely into the alien's eyes. "I was conscripted. I didn't ask. I was six. And I was given a reason to be, to live. There's no comparison between us."
Arbiter's eyes swept over this human's face, panic rising. The rage, the hate, the loathing was eminent even to the non-human. The Demon's blue eyes were as hard as gems, glittering dangerously. This man had killed too many Elites to count. This man had killed . . . but . . .
"You do not enjoy killing."
Both helmets fell to the floor, the Spartan sitting behind them, elbows on his knees, his face still angered, still hate-filled, but no longer aimed at the Elite, as it was aimed instead at the floor. "When it's you freaks who've killed my family, my friends, everything I've known, I hold no regrets."
"We were lied to. I have no honor left because of what the Prophets ordered me to do. The Heretics that I had been sent to subdue were right. They had been correct all along. Your kind were right about things that none of my kind would have even questioned as wrong." Arbiter sat as well, long and lanky legs seeming awkward as he did so. "And . . . on behalf of those who I now see as being right, I apologize."
John looked up, wary. "I don't trust or believe you."
"You don't have to. I do not trust you, for all that I understand some of you."
"Some Elite saying?"
"Hm. An old one, from before there was even the Covenant."
The door shot open, revealing Johnson, who stopped immediately. "Getting over differences, boys?" He blinked at John. "Been a long time since I've seen your face. You need sun, boy! Too blasted white. Tan up! That's an order! You want the gals to see that pasty mug of yours? Heck, no! Tannin's the way to go, m'boy!"
John snorted, rising, picking himself up from the floor, hearing the Elite move as he did. Still bent, he picked the helmets up. One lacking any degree of individuality, one filled with a remorseful personality. He held the Arbiter's helmet out, replying to Johnson. "Finding that those differences aren't so different than I had first thought."
Arbiter took the helmet, looking into the Demon's face from a closer angle. And nodded once, feeling the Spartan release his helmet.
It was eleven months later, and they were about to kill each other . . . again.
"As if I am one who cares about your race! We are allies because of circumstances, not because we Elites suddenly decided to be affable!"
"You could have been nicer! Commander Keyes has been through more than you could ever guess! And she's our commanding officer on this mission!"
"Mission! Hah! Child's play is more like it, Demon!"
John roared and threw himself at Arbiter, sending sand flying everywhere on the silent mission back to Delta Halo. Their sergeant blinked over his shoulder at the tussling behemoths, shoving a newbie to keep moving and not to stare at something that was commonplace at this point. Once the kids were at the final rendezvous point and were piling aboard a Pelican, Johnson wearily told the pilot to come back in an hour, hopping nimbly off of the end of the troop-transport, taking his time walking back.
And wasn't shocked in the least to see that they were still fighting. Sitting upon a rock just behind a larger boulder, he waiting it out, hearing the curses and name-calling clearly, smirking at a few of the more inventive ones. Before a half-hour had passed, they were down to panting, cussing each other out while a good six feet apart. However, the swears exhausted themselves after a while, and silence prevailed. Johnson peeked around the boulder, seeing them staring at each other.
Arbiter spoke first, panting. "I will apologize to the female."
"Why didn't you blasted well give in before?"
"You wanted to fight."
"How would you have known that?"
"I wanted to fight. And not in one of those metal training-rooms on the ship. Out here, where fights should take place."
John sighed, relaxing to lay upon his back on the sand, hearing the Arbiter move to lean over him. "You're getting tired easier, Demon."
"I'm sick of fighting. I never thought that I would say that, but I am." He sat up again, feeling more than seeing or hearing the Arbiter move to lean back-to-back with him. He pulled his helmet off, moving his fingers through slightly-longer-than-regulation hair that was beginning to gray in small areas. "And you're not as energetic, yourself."
"I will admit that I, too, am getting old. I had been merely a pilot before the campaign against you humans, but I rose quickly, and at the time of the discovery of the first Halo, I had been commanding a fleet for over the equivalent of five of your years."
"That long, huh?"
"You do not sound impressed."
"Not in the least, alien."
Arbiter chuckled for the first time in a long while, surprising his companion into his own rare chuckle. After a long silence, Arbiter asked a rather uncanny question. "What are normal relations between partners in your culture?"
"Hold up. What?"
"I could not ask anyone else. I am . . . slightly troubled by something."
John shrugged. "Depends upon what you mean."
"Aah, well . . . blast, Arbiter, you ask tough questions when we get back to being civilized to each other." John sighed. "Normal relations?"
Shrugging, John shook his head. "For over four thousand years, marriage was defined by the partnership between one man and one woman. Is that what you were asking about?"
"Possibly. But why are two men–"
"Oh, don't go there. We've had to talk to those two already to make sure they keep it down."
"That is normal in your culture!"
"Yeah. I don't see how, though. I . . ." he made a sound of slight disgust. "I can't fit my mind around how two . . . ugh, Arbiter. Ask a simple question, next time." Blinking, watching as the sun disappeared behind the ring, he lightly dug his elbow into the Elite behind him. "What about in your culture?"
"Never would two of the same gender even think about something like that. Marriage and mating are for the continuation of the species, for the completion of cycles of birthing and dying. Like this ring, in a sense."
"Were you married?"
"Once? What happened?"
"I had become that which I opposed. She left me when the Mark of Shame was burned onto my chest."
"Did you have children?"
"One, but . . . my son died soon after birth, three years before Halo. I was on a mission, and I do not know what caused his death. I was never told."
"Did you ask?"
"Why would I have? In my culture it is the females who wish and pray for children; who rear them. If they are blessed to be born male, when they mature, their fathers take over their rearing." Arbiter looked over his right shoulder at the Spartan. "It is different, I am guessing, with your people."
"Both parents raise a child, or their children, regardless of gender."
"You have never been married."
"Had a special friend?"
A small smile flitted over John's face as he turned his head to look at the Elite. "That's almost prying."
"Geh." He looked back at the ringworld. "Once. And she was amazing."
Johnson could be heard cursing as he walked over the series of rocky sand dunes that separated the site of their impromptu sparring and the rendezvous point. The dark-skinned man roared, "Get your lazy butts moving! We're late!"
Jointly sighing, the two warriors stood, walking over the dune and following the Sergeant.